Posts Tagged ‘Tate’

Tate watched as Phil studied George’s oldest son. Finally he turned back at his father. “What’s wrong with him? He’s sweating like a pig.”

“Nothing!” George answered. “He’s tired, and hot. We all are.”

John walked up to the gate and studied the young man as he swayed on his feet. He turned back to Phil and whispered. “He’s bit. Look at his right leg.”

Phil took a closer look and he saw dark threads stretching up one leg from the waistband hanging at the top of his boots. “He can’t come in.”

The young man turned to his father with a questioning look on his face.

“You and the boy can come in, but he’s bit. He’ll turn.” Phil stated.

George dropped to his knees. “I can’t leave him.” After a sob, he added. “Just take Jason.”

“Dad?” The younger boy called out. “I want to go with you and Dell.”

“I can’t leave your brother. You’ll be safe here.”

John opened the gate wide enough for the boy to walk through.  When Jason didn’t move, John looked to George and he nodded.

John took Jason by the arm and led him through the barrier. “Come on boy.”

Jason and John walked through the opening and the gate closed behind them with a loud clank as the security latches engaged. George got to his feet and together with his son pulled his clothes back on.

Jason walked up to the gate and wrapped both hands around the wrought iron. “Dad? Please. Let me come with you.”

George pushed his older son toward the truck then turned back to Phil. “Take care of my boy. When this is over, I’ll be back. Jason better be here.”

“He will be…unless we’re all gone.”

The F-150 pulled away amid a spray of gravel. The truck fishtailed until George eased off the gas and righted the vehicle. It headed back down the narrow road toward the highway. John led Jason away while Bill, Doyle and Tate walked up to Phil.

Bill continued to stare at the gate. “I don’t like the prick, but I wouldn’t wish that on even him.”

“Nothing else to be done. I am not about to let someone that is infected in here.” Phil spun the chair around and headed toward the house and called out. “Ben.”

The boy ran up to him. “Yes, Uncle Phil.”

“Get up to the roost. Keep an eye on the road and Bandera Falls. I want to know if anything moves toward us. Walking or riding.”

“Yes, sir. Can I take Jason with me?” Ben asked.

Phil nodded. “Do that and try to keep him from worrying too much about what’s going on.”

Ben disappeared into the house with Jason in tow.

Tate looked toward the new arrivals that stood in front of their vehicles. Beth came rushing from the house with a tray of sandwiches and plastic bottles of water. She herded the people to a couple picnic tables with several benches. When they were settled and eating Phil rolled up with his entourage.

“I know some of you, the rest I’ll get to know soon enough. We don’t have room for any more people in the house, but with your help I think we can make arrangements that will be tolerable. In the meantime, everyone will be expected to help keep the place secure and feed everyone. Meanwhile, just remember, you’re on my property so what I say goes.”

Phil turned around and motioned for his brother-in-laws, Doyle and Tate to follow. When they got to the house he led them into a back room with a large desk. He rolled to his position behind the desk and motioned the others to find seating.

Phil propped his elbows on the desk and rubbed at his temples.

John sighed. “What in the fuck are we going to do with all these people?”

Phil slammed his hands against the desk. “What we have to do.”

Tate and the men spent the next hour making lists and prioritizing jobs. It was decided the three car garage would be cleaned out and the space used as living quarters until something better could be arranged. Sanitation issues were not an immediate problem since a fully functional apartment had been built at one end when Phil and Beth first moved to the bluff before the big house was built. The apartment would provide a full bathroom with shower and a functional kitchen with a gas stove so cooking.

“The FEMA trailers are going to be even more important now. People are going to get real tired of staying in the garage.” Tate commented. “Until the last week, when the electricity went down, we all enjoyed air conditioning. It’s going to be a hot summer and people will be getting pretty tired of the heat inside that metal building.”

“I know,” Phil answered. “We got a lot of shit to worry about.”

John nodded. “We need to trim back the brush around the fence.”

“I agree,” Phil answered. “But we have to get those trailers and more supplies in here first. We don’t have enough to feed all these people for very long.”

“The food situation is the priority. Is there a big box store anywhere close?” Tate asked.

“There’s a discount store outside Bandera.” John answered.

“Alright. We settle them in and then head out tomorrow.” Bill announced.

It was a long day settling the new arrivals into the garage. There was plenty of spacee, but in the end, it took an executive decision to decide who would take the two bedrooms in the garage apartment. Phil announced the older couple got one bedroom and the second would be used by the young couple with two young children.

When a middle-aged man tried to protest, Phil pointed at the gate and the man quietly accepted the bedding and army cot Phil had pulled from a storage closet. His wife and two teen sons accepted their bedding and quietly set up cots in the corner next to him. The woman sat down on the cot as if waiting to be served.

Ben and Jason set up cinder blocks and one by eight-inch boards to make shelving around the side and back walls and half a dozen plastic tarps over ropes created private enclosures. By the time everyone was assigned sleeping quarters and fed an evening meal, they were more than ready to go to bed.

The next morning Tate rolled off the couch at the first gurgle of the coffee maker. She got in and out of the bathroom right after Beth and ahead of the men. The older couple, Iris and Roger Spencer had volunteered to cook for the second group out in the garage so Beth and her sisters were only cooking for the family household.

Tate picked up a cup of coffee. “You know, Doyle and I could have slept on cots outside with Roger’s group.

“Nonsense. You and Doyle are family now. You saved our Ben. You put yourselves in danger to come after the rest of us.”

Ben’s mother, Janice nodded quickly and added. “You saved my son. Bill and I can never do enough to repay you.”

Tate squirmed at the praise so she changed the subject. “It’s hard to imagine you walked all that way. That’s a pretty long trek for the kids.”

Beth sighed. “For a while, I didn’t think we would make it. We took turns carrying the little ones, but we had no choice.” Beth looked embarrassed. “They followed Bill and Janice when they drove in. John, Mary and I had been shooting at the monsters and killed my SUV the day before. When Bill and Janice drove in, we just kept firing. They got inside, but we hit the radiator of the van. We were just so scared. It took a while to figure out only head shots. Then we started running low on ammunition.”

“I can understand that, but there was the explosion.” Doyle responded.

“Oh, that was Bill. He decided he could slow them down so we could get out the back door, over the fence, and up to the ridge. He opened the valve on a small propane tank and taped a wood match to the door resting against a striker. He figured he had a few minutes before they could push the door open, but he barely got out the back door.” Janice chuckled. “Wish you could have seen his face. His eyes were big as saucers by the time he scampered up the ridge.”

Tate chuckled and Janice continued. “We knew we were in a terrible situation and still in danger, but we stood on that ridge just laughing.”

“I’m glad he’s going with me. He sounds like a man who can think on his feet.” Tate laughed.

The men wondered into the kitchen to grab cups of coffee while Phil rolled up to his spot at the end of the table. He looked around the large table. Beth set a cup of coffee in front of him.

“Everyone knows their job, right. I wish I were going with you.” Phil complained.

Bill held up his hand. “We’ve had this discussion. You need to get the yard ready for the trailers. Everyone left here will need to work together and you’re the only one that knows what should be done.”

Beth sat biscuits and homemade apple butter on the table then passed around bowls of grits. Everyone settled down to eat without further discussion. After a final cup of coffee, everyone got up and drifted toward the door.

Beth stood at the door and handed each a bag. “It’s only a sandwich and an apple and two bottles of water. Bring the bottles with lids back, please. We need to recycle.”

Tate accepted a bag and headed to the Bitch with Bill close on her heels. He carried his own bag and a rifle and wore a handgun in a holster at his waist.

“You ready for this?” Bill asked.

Thank you for reading the first three chapters of “TERROR IN TEXAS”, Book 1 in the “Torn Apart Series”.
I hope you have enjoyed it.  The book is available in ebook and paperback.
Check out Amazon:
Thanks again for your interest.
Leave a review if you’ve enjoyed my efforts.

C. A. Hoaks

Phil Baker made a compelling argument for Tate and Doyle to remain at his high bluff compound in the Hill Country of central Texas. When he had finished his speech, he let the subject drop. Tate Hamilton, once a long haul truck driver, was left to mull over her options, stay at the protected refuge or leave and find her family? Phil’s retreat was a safe place to stay, but if she stayed, she would never learn the fate of her mother and sister in Houston.

Phil spun the wheels of his chair and rolled toward his wife sorting bedding for the latest arrivals. There were a lot of people to feed at Phil’s compound and sleeping arrangements to make. Phil’s family included his wife and two girls, John and Mary with two kids, Bill and Janice, Ben’s parents, and Gina, with her baby. The couples and Gina each ended up in bedrooms while the kids were left to sleep on pallets on a second story sleeping porch.

Doyle turned to Tate. “Well, what are your thoughts?”

Tate shrugged as she picked up her own quilt and walked toward the leather couch. “Guess I’ll think about it.”

Doyle and Tate, as outsiders were offered the sizeable L-shaped couch in the den. She threw her quilt over the seat and back to retrieve later if she got cold. Doyle threw a pillow on a pallet on the floor and within minutes was snoring softly.

Ben, Phil’s nephew Tate had rescued, complained he was too big to bunk with the little boys, and he didn’t want to hear the young girls chatter all night, so he opted to sleep in the den with Doyle and Tate. He curled up with an Army blanket and pillow on the short section of the sofa opposite Tate.

Tate and Doyle offered to be part of the guard rotation, but Phil declined. He announced they deserved at least one night’s sleep. John and the other guards walked outside leaving the occupants of the house to settle down for the evening. Phil disappeared to his third story look-out in a cubical on the roof, and the room grew quiet.

Tate shifted her position for the third time in as many minutes trying to get comfortable. She slid the cushion, under her butt, back in place then folded her hands behind her head while she listened to the guard’s heavy steps on the boards outside the window, as he strolled the wrap around porch. She lay awake thinking about Phil’s offer of a place to stay.

“Psst,” Ben whispered. “Tate, you awake?”

With the moonlight through the windows, Tate studied him. “Yeah. I’m awake.”

“You know, I played a lot of games on my X-box. One was killing monsters. This is like that in real life.”

“Yeah. I supposed that could sum things up pretty well,” Tate answered, wondering where the conversation was going.

“I’m not sure I can do it,” he whispered; his voice catching. “They‘re people.”

Tate swung her feet around to rest on the floor. In the moonlight, she could see Ben huddled against the arm of the couch, with tears glistening in his eyes.

“You can’t think like that. The walking-shit-bags aren’t people now. They’re just dead bodies moving because they were infected by an engineered virus.”

“But…” he whispered.

“But nothing. If you hesitate, you’ll be a danger to yourself and everyone around you. I know this sucks Ben, but you have to forget they were people and see only monsters ready to tear you and your family apart.”

“Are we going to make it?” he whispered. “I mean people. Can we recover from this?”

“All we can do is try to survive.” Tate sighed. “You need to get some rest, now. Things will have to change for sure.”

Ben slid down on his end of the couch. “I guess you’re right. Good night.”

Tate closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but instead mulled over her and Ben’s conversation until exhaustion took over.

Tate woke to the smell of coffee when dawn barely peeked through the trees. Phil’s wife, Emma, was busy in the kitchen making biscuits and white gravy with ham. By the time Phil appeared, Doyle and Tate were already moving around. When they had both gotten a cup of coffee, he asked them to follow him outside. He rolled out on the porch in his wheelchair and pointed Tate and Doyle to two woven-willow chairs.

“Have you thought about our conversation?” Phil asked.

Doyle slapped his leg and snorted. “I’ll be damned. You really want us to stay?”

“This is a big decision you’re making, considering you have known us for less than twenty-four hours,” Tate answered.

Phil nodded. “I got a chance to see you both in action. With me being in this damned chair, we’ve only got four able-bodied men, and that’s counting Ben as one of them. That’s not enough. If these people are going to survive, I have to have good people to help.”

Doyle nodded. “I ain’t got anyone expecting me; I was just looking for a place to hunker down. I’ll take you up on the offer.” He turned to Tate. “What about you, girlie?”

Tate looked at Phil, unsure of what to say. “Since I left San Antonio, I’ve been heading to my cousin’s place. It’s remote, and I’m hoping my mom and sister made it there.”

“The roads are pretty bad right now; lots of cars and dead out there. Maybe it would be safer to wait a week or two before you head out, again,” Doyle advised.

Phil added. “I don’t want to pressure you, but Doyle might be right. The roads have all the city folks trying to get somewhere safe and ending up being part of the problem. That’s exactly what happened in Bandera and Bandera Falls. Out-of-towners brought infected with them. Only took one or two to take down both towns.”

“You might be right,” Tate mumbled.

“You could stay here and wait it out.” Phil offered.

“I appreciate the offer, but you have too many people already for a four-bedroom house,” Tate answered.

Phil chuckled. “I agree, accommodations leave something to be desired. I’ve been thinking about it, too. If you help us with the housing situation, and you still want to go, I’ll add two full fifty-five-gallon drums to my previous offer. That would be an extra hundred gallons of diesel, plus supplies to get you to your family.”

“All that for a day of hauling?” Tate asked.

Phil shrugged. “Yep. That’s the deal. But if you change your mind along the way, you’re still welcome to stay.”

“What did you have in mind to solve the housing problem?” Tate asked.

“There’s row after row of FEMA trailers lined up in Boerne about twenty miles south on Hwy 46. If we could get three or four of those brought back here, it would alleviate the housing issue real quick. We’re going to have to upgrade the septic system eventually, but water is no problem. I have two wells. We’ll have to do some plumbing work and lay some piping, but otherwise, we should be alright.”

Tate laughed. “It sounds like it’s more than a couple days of work.”

“Yeah. If we can add a couple trailers full of provisions, we’d be set for months,” Phil answered.

“It looks like you’ll need a few more than that,” Doyle pointed toward the gate. “Look outside the gate.”

Tate and Phil turned toward the gate and saw three vehicles sitting outside the wrought iron barrier. John and Bill with rifles in hand rushed out of the house and up to where Phil sat staring at a pickup, van and sedan.

John asked, “What are we going to do about them?”

Phil reached for the wheels on his chair and rolled toward the gate. “John, you and Bill cover us.” Both Tate and Doyle followed Phil.

A man with a bat in his hand stepped out of the front vehicle. His eyes darted from left to right as if expecting an attack at any moment.

Phil rolled up to within a dozen feet of the gate and looked out at the three vehicles. Doyle and Tate stood on either side.

Outside the gate sat a relatively new Ford F-150, a minivan, and an old Chevy Impala. Tate stepped away about ten feet from Phil to get a better look at the occupants. There were two men still sitting in the truck the leader had been driving. In a light green minivan smeared with blood set a young couple with the heads of two small children peeking over the front seats. The Impala sat behind the van with an old man wearing a baseball cap and a gray-haired woman at his side. The back seat seemed to be filled with boxes and stacks of supplies.

Phil scowled at the man outside the gate. “George, what do you want?”

“Your little escapade at the ball field yesterday burned down the Electric Co-op. A bunch of us were staying there. We need a place to stay.”

“Who’s in this WE, you’re talking about?” Phil asked.

Tate turned at the sound of running steps behind them. Ben followed by John and Bill raced to Phil’s side. Ben cupped his hand and whispered something at Phil.

George opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted when Phil demanded. “What are you trying to pull? You have more vehicles down the hill from my property.”

The driver of the Impala stepped out of the car and walked up to the gate. “Shut up, George. I told you this was not a good idea.” The old man turned to the gate. “Phil, twenty of us got out of the co-op. We got women and children and have nowhere else to go.”

Phil nodded at Ben, John, and Bill. “Call them up here. Pull up to the gate, one at a time. The vehicles will sit outside until we bring ‘em in one at a time. Everyone gets checked for bites before they step through the gate.”

George started to protest, but Phil raised his hand. “My place, my rules.”

“I’m the mayor of Bandera –” George protested.

“And this ain’t Bandera! Anyone don’t like my terms, turn around and go back down the bluff.”

The portly, old man looked at George, one last time before calling out. “The wife and I agree to your terms, Phil. I’m sure the rest will.” He turned to George and added, “If you got a problem with it, George, pull aside, and let us start lining up at the gate.”

George got in his truck and pulled to the turn-around at the side of the wrought iron fence. He parked the F-150 but stayed behind the wheel.

The old man headed back to his vehicle, stopping to speak to the couple in the mini-van on his way. The green van rolled up to the gate, both front doors opened, and the man herded his wife and two children to the gate. Quietly, without a word, the couple stripped to underclothes and turned around slowly, then dressed and undressed the kids. Phil nodded to Ben, and the gate rolled open.

The woman picked up the kid’s clothes and hurried to the passenger door with the kids in tow. They jumped inside and the man drove through the gate. Ben closed the barrier behind the van.

“Stop!” Emma Nolan stormed through the front door of the house. “Phillip Nolan! You will not do what I just saw, again!” She yelled at the open windows of the van, “I’m sorry!”

John waved the van to the side the compound. The Impala moved to the closed gate and stopped. Three more vehicles rolled up behind the Impala.

Emma rushed to Tate and pushed a handful of sheets into her arms. “We’re civilized human beings and will not be traumatizing women and children. No more strip searches for women in front of all these men. We’ll do the inspection behind these sheets.” She turned to Phil with a pointed glare.

Phil held up his hand in surrender and called out for two pieces of rebar. A minute later, Ben ran across the yard with two six foot lengths of metal.

Emma crossed her arms and John rolled back the gate wide enough to walk through. Tate joined him with the stack of sheets in hand. She tied a corner of fabric to a spiked length of wrought iron fencing then another about five feet away. She tied two more sheets, at either corner. By then, John had pushed both pieces of rebar into the ground. Tate tied the ends of the second and third pieces of fabric to the stakes. She used the fourth sheet to finish off the enclosure. When she was finished, she had a sheeted enclosure.

The older couple got out of the car, and the woman grinned at Emma. “Bless you, dear. I appreciate this.” The woman stepped into the enclosure and a few minutes later called out, “I’m ready.”

Emma tapped Tate’s shoulder. “That’s you, dear.” She turned to hurry back to the house.

Cringing, Tate stepped to the sheet and pulled back the edge of the sheet that allowed her to peek inside.

The old woman smiled. “It’s alright, honey. I ain’t got nothing you haven’t seen in the mirror.” She made a slow turn and at Tate’s quick nod, began redressing.

Tate turned back to Phil and gave him a thumbs-up. The Impala entered the compound and parked next to the mini-van. The elderly woman joined the young family on a nearby picnic table in the shade of a large oak.

The occupants of three more vehicles went through the inspection, then came through the gate. Only the F-150 sat outside. The old man walked up to Phil. “Don’t know if you remember me, Phil, I’m Bradley Wilson. I’m not much for telling tales, but you better be careful with George. He’s losing it.”

“Who’s with him?” Phil asked.

“His two boys,” Bradley answered.

“You can’t leave us out here,” George called out from the window of the F-150.

Phil called out, “You know what it takes to come in.”

“I got my boys. I’m in charge of this group,” George protested. “I need to be in there to take care of them.”

“Do what I ask then,” Phil demanded.

Finally, George spoke to his sons, then slowly stepped out of the truck. Both younger men followed. They stepped up to the gate and began removing clothes. Following their father’s instructions, they unbuttoned their shirts and removed them then loosened their belts and pants to pulled them to their knees. Meanwhile, George stepped out of his loafers, then pulled off his shirt, and his pants down. He scowled as he turned around.

Phil nodded, then rolled over to the boys.

The older of the two young men appeared to be in his late teens or early twenty’s while the other looked no more than fifteen. The older had stripped off his shirt and pulled down his pants to hang around his knees, then stood without turning. The younger man stepped out of his boots, then slipped off his pants. He did a quick turn, and when he saw Phil scowl, he turned again more slowly.

After looking over George and his younger son, Phil gave the man a quick nod then turned back to the older brother and sighed, “Boots off. I want to see your legs and feet.”

The young man turned to his father, and George protested, “Damn-it! This is bullshit! Open the fucking gate!”

Tate woke to the sound of voices. She glanced around with a deep sigh. Spending the night at Phil’s place was the first time she had slept in a real bed in more than a month. She had forgotten how good it could feel. She stretched out on the clean sheets and decided it was heaven, even without air conditioning. She slipped from the double bed and into fresh clothes she’d brought in from the rig. After using the bathroom, she padded down the stairs to the huge open room on the first floor.

Phil, Doyle and Ben sat at a massive farm table eating biscuits, ham, and eggs. The two men had mugs of coffee while Ben a can of soda.

Phil glanced up and nodded a greeting. “Get yourself some breakfast.” He pointed at the kitchen then continued his conversation with Doyle. “The family went into Bandera the day it happened. I haven’t heard anything since a phone call from my wife saying they were in trouble and headed to my sister-in-law’s house. If they made it there, my family could be alive.

Tate poured herself a cup of coffee. “Is that why you were here alone?”

Phil nodded, but he forced a smile. “Ben’s folks were on the way to Beth’s house too and they were supposed to pack up and head this way as soon as they got there. Something had to have happened and there hasn’t been a thing I could do about it.”

Tate looked at Doyle. He nodded slightly then picked up the coffee cup and brought it to his lips.

Tate asked. “Bandera Falls? Right up the road from where Doyle’s truck ran out of gas?”

Phil nodded. “No. Bandera. It’s the difference of a dozen miles and ninety and nine hundred people living there.”

“We have two rigs. Maybe we could head up there and pick them up in the trucks?” Doyle asked.

“We could take Ben if he knows the address.” Take continued.

“No. I’m going,” Phil stated. “I’ve got weapons and I know how to use them. Ben needs to stay and take care of the livestock.”

Ben jerked his head up from his third biscuit. “I can shoot.” H protested around a full mouth. “They’re my family, too.”

“I know kid. And when we come back with them if the place is overrun, they have nowhere to go. Someone has to protect the compound.”

Ben beamed. “Since you put it like that, I guess, I’m your man.”

Two hours later Doyle and Phil rolled out of the compound in Doyle’s rig with Tate following behind in the Orange Bitch with a trailer attached to a makeshift trailer hitch. Once outside, she picked up the CB mic and turned the radio to a channel they had agreed on using for the operation.

“Ok, Phil. What’s the deal with Ben? You didn’t want him to come with us, why?”

Phil answered. “Last I heard from his folks, they were headed to Bandera. My brother-in-law was going to pick up my wife and the family at Beth’s house. If it’s bad, I don’t want Ben seeing it.”

Tate sighed then answered. “Got it.”

“The sister lives on Old Hondo Hwy. The problem is the only way to get there is to go into town. If its overrun, your little diversion should give us time to get to them.”

“I’m locked and loaded,” Tate answered with a grim smile. “You boys just take care of your end and get the family.”

She laid the rifle on the seat next to her and patted the pockets on her vest. She had three extra magazines and a box of ammunition, courtesy of Phil. There was also a box with six glass bottles half filled with gasoline with rags hanging out of the top. The smell of gasoline was so intense she lowered windows hoping the slight breeze would pull the fumes from the cab.

As she drove, Tate imagined nine hundred monsters lined up waiting for them. She knew it was ridiculous, but couldn’t help it. Now that she had convinced the men she was the best one to create the diversion, she was getting nervous. Talking about her mouth overloading her ass…she’d done it this time.

The world was screwed and she wondered if anyone would survive. People were becoming monsters then attacking the survivors. She hoped the government nuked the people responsible for this mess.

The drive to Bandera was way too short. She followed Doyle as he passed the green sign advertising the city with a population of nine-hundred and thirty-seven people. The radio crackled and Doyle’s voice announced. “Not good, Tate. Looks overrun.”

Tate pulled to the left to get a better view of the road ahead. It was disheartening. The highway ahead was littered with dozens of vehicles. Some stopped in the middle of the road while others were pulled to the side and abandoned with doors left open. Dozens of infected milled around the front of a store front. At the sound of the trucks approaching, the monsters raised their heads and begun stumbling toward the rumbling engines.

“Shit!” Tate picked up the mic and said. “Ok, work the plan.”

Phil answered immediately. “Drop back and follow us. Don’t shoot unless you have to.”

“Got it.” She answered.

Tate stepped on the clutch and down-shifted the Bitch. Doyle pulled away with a rumble of the powerful engine. The horde of infected stumbled toward them with dogged determination. Doyle steered his rig between two vehicles and crushed four infected: two were gray-skinned men wearing dark blue uniforms, another was a child still wearing a big yellow bow in her hair while the last was teenager in a t-shirt and leggings.

More and more of the infected stumbled toward them. Those monsters that didn’t make it quick enough to approach Doyle’s truck before it passed stumbled after the rig down the middle of the road. Tate rolled over them.

The stench rose up in a nasty cloud of putrefaction. The fumes from the jars of gasoline made it impossible to close the windows. Besides, she needed to be able to use her firearms if Doyle got into trouble. She swallowed the bile rising to the back of her throat and picked up the mic.

“How much farther?”

“Two more blocks. Then we take a left. Try to block access and entertain the masses while we get around the curve in the road right after the turnoff. Out of site, should be out of mind, hopefully.”

“Got it. When you get out of sight, I’ll turn on the music and pied-piper my way to the ball field. After I set off the diversion, I’ll haul ass back to the intersection. Just get the family.”

Tate accelerated and closed the gap between the trucks. She slowed when Doyle’s brake lights flashed and the truck downshifted. She could see the sign for Old Hondo Highway ahead and gave Doyle room to turn off. She downshifted again and stopped in front of the highway.

She revved the engine and turned on the iPod. Speakers on the dash blared music by the Cranberries. The sound drew more and more of the infected to her. When Doyle’s rig disappeared around the curve she stepped on the clutch and shifted the Bitch into gear. She wanted to make sure she continued to keep the interest of the walking dead. Painstakingly slow, she began to move forward. She blew the horn, revved the engine and shifted to second as the music blared.

The Bitch was surrounded by monsters. The ones in the front of the rig fell under the press of the brush guard and knocked down some of their brethren in the process. Dozens of infected were falling under the massive tires. As she accelerated, more monsters turned and followed. She watched as at least a hundred monsters stumbled after her. She grinned as she realized it was working. With a little luck, she would give Phil plenty of time to gather his family.

It was a painfully slow trek to the far side of town and the baseball field. She drew more and more of the monsters to her. Finally, she saw the big lights sticking up over the buildings in the distance. She looked at the digital clock on the dash. It had taken half an hour to get to park. She gunned the engine and raced down the block.

Tate accelerated away from her followers and rolled over the fencing at the side of the ballpark. She stopped on second base, grabbed the music player with the mini-speakers and she jumped from the cab. She ran to the trailer, set the player under the metal tripod then dragged a cinder block from the trailer. She positioned the stone under the trailer tongue and pulled the pin on the hitch. She ran back to the cab and climbed back inside just as hundreds of monsters spilled into the ball field. She cranked the Bitch and began rolling forward.

Tate flicked a grill lighter and used a piece of duct tape to keep the flame fueled. She dropped the end into the cup holder then passed over the flame the end of a gas soaked rag hanging from one of the bottles. When the rag caught, she eased it out the window and tossed the jar about five feet from the trailer. The flames exploded with a whoosh. She repeated the process three more times then eased off the clutch and accelerated toward the back fence.

She hit the hurricane fence then jerked the wheel to the left and tossed two more lit bottles of gasoline at the break in the fencing. She accelerated for half a block then turned down an alley and slammed on the brakes. She killed the engine.

The Bitch sat still and silent while Tate grabbed her rifle before climbing from the cab. She hurried to the corner of the building and peeked around the brick. The scene on the ball field was horrendous. Hundreds of infected had followed her through the opening then stumbled toward the trailer and the blaring rock music. They shuffled into the flames around the trailer. They had hoped the flames would draw in the infected but protect the anchored tripod with the butane cylinder mounted on the top. The first part worked. Not so much the second. Flames didn’t discourage the infected from bunching up and jostling the trailer.

Phil had mounted the tank then used a roll of plastic wrap to surround the tank with nails and ball bearings. Now, all she had to do was hit the valve and blow the tank. She hoped she hadn’t over stated her skill.

Tate pulled the rifle to her shoulder and sighted the valve of the cylinder. She took a deep breath then released. Her heart raced when she saw half a dozen infected stumble through the flames and stagger across the road toward a nearby wood structure.

There were hundreds of monsters milling around the blaring music with at least a quarter of them near enough to the flames to catch fire. She took a breath, released it and squeezed the trigger. The shot took out a bald man with flames climbing up his leg. He fell into the firestorm.


Tate took a deep breath and blew it out in frustration. She pulled the rifle back to her shoulder. Without hesitating she drew in a breath, released it, and fired again. This time the projectile sheared the valve at the top of the tank.

The detonation was deafening. Tate fell back from the corner to the ground. Windows overhead shattered. Glass rained down on her. She dropped the gun and fell to her knees with her arms covering her head. Scorching air burst out from the ball field along with chunks of projectiles hitting the brick of the building. Tate huddled against the wall of the building.

When the only sound was the roar of the flames, Tate stuck her head around the building. The ball field was pure carnage. Hundreds of the infected were scattered around the grounds in pieces and lay unmoving while even more were on fire and stumbling over the shattered bodies.

Tate imagined she had attracted at least half of the town. She picked up the rifle and got to her feet and turned back to the truck. Her breath caught when she faced an infected man. He looked like a reject from a horror movie with half of his face gone and gray hair covered in carnage. He raised his arms, his hands reached out to her as if to draw her into an embrace.

Tate swung the butt of the rifle up and connected with the side of his head. He staggered back a step but the impact failed to take him down. She followed with a swift kick out with her foot and caved in his knee. His leg buckled and he fell to his knees. Tate raised the rifle and fired. The man collapsed in a heap.

Tate turned away from the body in time to see half a dozen more infected heading her way. She ran to the cab and climbed inside. She cranked the engine and jammed the Bitch into gear. She shifted through the gears as it picked up speed and she made her way around the side streets back to the highway.

The radio crackled to life. “Tate? You got your ears on?” Doyle’s voice asked.

“I’m here,” Tate answered. “I’m headed back your way. Got the family?”

Doyle sounded dejected. “Long story. Let’s head home.”

“What?” Tate asked.

“Family is gone. The house is destroyed. The occupants held off a horde before the place was overrun.” Doyle added.

Tate sighed. “I am so sorry, Phil.”

She turned left a final time and went to the end of the side street. She slowed and looked to the left and then to the right. She was on highway sixteen. She turned right and headed back to Old Hondo Highway.

When she got to the intersection she saw Doyle’s rig sitting at the intersection waiting. He saw her and pulled out ahead of her. She followed.

Forty minutes later, they pulled up to the gate and waited for Ben to appear. Instead, a bear of man strolled out of the house with a big grin on his face. He gave Doyle and Phil a careless wave and opened the gate. Doyle and Tate pulled the rigs through the gate. When the man had closed the gate he jogged to the passenger side of Doyle’s truck and jerked open the door.

Phil reached out to be caught in the arms of the big man.

“You son of a bitch!” Phil pounded on his companion’s chest. “Beth? The girls?” Tears were streaming down his face.

“All fine.” The man picked up Phil and headed across the yard as if his weight was nothing. “They’re a little tired, but fine now that they’re home.”

Tate and Doyle followed the pair as the big man carried Phil to the house. Doyle leaned over and whispered. “I’ll be damned. If you had seen what we did, you’d be amazed any of Phil’s family is here.”

Tate asked. “What do you mean?”

“There was blood and bodies parts everywhere. Shell casings, and at some point there had been an explosion. We figured everyone was dead. I thought the man was going to climb out of the cab when he saw the house. I convinced him to let me look around. I told him it looked like people got out, but honestly it didn’t.”

Tate slapped his arm. “I’m glad you were wrong.”

Doyle laughed. “So am I, believe me.”

By the time Tate and Doyle got to the house, Phil had been deposited into his wheelchair and was surrounded by a bevy of people; two men and the bearish man from the gate, four women, and half a dozen kids from toddler to teens.

When Doyle and Tate got to the porch, Phil introduced his wife, Beth and two daughters. Then he introduced John and his wife’s sister, Mary, then Martha and her husband, Bill, Ben’s folks in addition to the handful of children. A woman with a small child in her arms stood off to the side of the group.

“Gina, come here, honey,” Phil called the woman closer.

The woman stood, unmoving. Beth stepped to her side. “I told you it would be alright, honey. Phil is glad you’re here.”

Tears welled up in Gina’s eyes. She clutched the child so tightly the baby began to whine and fuss.

Phil reached out with a calloused hand. “Gina, you’re safe here. You belong to our family, now. You and the child have a home with us. You don’t have to be afraid of anyone hurting you again.”

The young woman began to weep and Phil opened his arms. She fell to her knees in front of Phil and leaned into his arms. Together, the man, the child, and young woman clung to each other for several minutes. Finally, Gina sat back and smiled.

“Thank you,” Gina whispered. “He’s dead.”

Beth stepped up and wrapped an arm around Gina. “Let’s get you and the baby cleaned up. The last three days of walking and hiding wasn’t easy on any of us. We’ll get you settled in a room. The girls won’t mind using the sleeping porch. It’s time we all get something to eat and rest.” She led the woman away.

The rest of the family disappeared into the house leaving Doyle and Tate to sit with Phil.

“I led you on a wild goose chase.”

Doyle shrugged. “Hey, we got rid of a lot of infected. Maybe it’ll be easier to scavenge supplies from Bandera now.”

“You’re a good man, Doyle. As for you, Tate, you’re an even better man.” He said with a chuckle. “That was pretty ballsy doing what you did. You made a hell of a boom. Sure was a lot of black smoke when we left town. I hope the whole town didn’t burn” Doyle laughed and Phil continued. “Both of you know how to take care of yourselves. I can use good people around here. I would like you to stay.”

Tate drove for nearly an hour before she could find a place to stop the rig after leaving the horrors of bloodied horde. She parked on an overpass with a clear view of the road ahead and behind. She imagined the steep incline on either side of the road would give her plenty of time to jump back in the truck and escape any wandering infected.

She climbed out of the rig and down to the road. She walked to the side of the asphalt and squatted in the dirt. Once the pressure of her bladder was relieved, she buttoned her pants and walked away from the stench of the infected clinging to the rig. She pulled her cell from the truck and tried to call her mother, then her sister. As before, all the circuits were busy. She didn’t have a number for her cousin, Randy, but had directions from State Road 180 and Pine Canyon Drive north of Van Horn.

She paced back and forth wondering what to do next. She had food and water for several days and nearly a full tank of gas. But where should she go? The radio still advertised refugee camps north of Austin, Waco, Wichita Falls and Navasota. Where would her family go? Would they know to go to Randy’s? Or would they be bussed to one of the refugee centers?

Tate climbed back in the truck and opened the navigation screen. She expanded the screen view until she figured out she was approximately sixty miles southwest of San Antonio. Houston was evacuated. No point in trying to go east. She had told Charlie she’d be going to stay with Randy. In the end, that was her decision.

The last time she had seen him, Randy had acted really strange. He was talking about the end of the world. When his mother passed away, he sold the family home and everything in it. He had moved to land that backed up against the Guadalupe National Part and moved into a cabin. She didn’t even know if it had running water. The closest town was Van Horn a town of two thousand people. Van Horn would be lucky to have a Quick Stop and a liquor store. She was four hundred miles from the little wide spot in the road and normally, that would be only an eight or nine-hour drive. Now, all bets were off.

She picked up Charlie’s state map and looked at the warren of side roads that got fewer as the further west she looked. She figured the major roads were probably choked with traffic and the infected. The narrow asphalt road she was on seemed clear enough for now. She could travel from one blacktop to the next always heading north and west until she got to Van Horn. From there she could drive straight north to find Randy’s place or she at least hoped she could.

As she pondered her situation, she climbed back out of her truck and walked around the front. She cringed at what she saw. Remnants of human bodies were wedged into the grill and brush guard at odd angles. She walked back to the tool box and pulled an old pair of gloves on. She spent the next ten minutes pulling limbs from the gap between the guard and the front grill and from around the bumper. She wished she had the water to wash away the remaining blood and gore, but she didn’t. If she found a stream she’d use a towel and try to clean it better.

Satisfied she had done all she could to eliminate the smell clinging to the truck, Tate got back in the cab and pulled the basket of cold chicken and biscuits from the back of the cab. She picked up a wing and tore off a mouthful of cold meat. She chewed while she studied the road ahead. She saw rolling hills and granite outcroppings in the distance.

She would be driving through limestone and granite formations with massive boulders and a thin layer of topsoil that could only support: yucca, prickly pear cactus, cedar scrub, and Texas live oak. Several tributaries of the Colorado River including the Llano and Pedernales rivers crossed the region. The area also included a number of caverns; the deeper of which formed aquifers which served as a source of water for the region.

Tate tossed a bone outside and opened a gallon of water. After a long drink of tepid water, she capped the bottle and cranked the big rig engine. She clutched and shifted until she was doing a sedate forty-five miles per hour on the narrow blacktop road.

She turned on the radio and after a few minutes only found one station still transmitting and it was repeating evacuation instructions. Nothing seemed to be broadcasting active reports. She leaned over and turned down the radio and turned on the CB radio.

At first, all she heard was static. She made sure she was on channel 19 and adjusted the squelch. The static began to clear and a faint voice called out.

“Infected blocking….”

“out of fuel…crushed.”

“fucker bit my leg. Gonna run over as many of the bastards as I can before I turn….”

“Breaker 1-9 for a 10-33, breaker 1-9 for a 10-33…”

“Go ahead 1-9” A deep male voice answered. Tate leaned closer to the receiver. The voice pulled at a memory. It sounded familiar.

“Emergency one mile west of intersection 16 & FM 46. There’s a kid on top of a UPS truck. Got eyes on him, but I can’t help him. He’s trapped by a dozen or so infected. ”

“I wish I could help.” The deep voice responded. “I’m out of commission, man. Sorry.”

Tate waited for someone to jump in, but there was only silence. Finally, she picked up the mic. “Breaker 1-9. I’m 10-51. Three minutes east of FM 46 location.”

“Who is that? Tate?” The deep voice called back through the speaker.

“10-4. Is that you, Doyle?” Tate asked with a hint of excitement in her voice. Someone she knew?

The deep voice laughed. “Yep. I’ll be damned. Little girl, you take care picking up the kid.”

“I’ll get back with you when I have the kid. You gonna be around?”

“Got no choice. I’m out of fuel just outside Bandera Falls.”

“Maybe I can help with that situation when I’m 99.”

“3s and 8s, Tate.”

Tate left the CB turned on, but laid down the mic. She had just passed state road 46 and knew she was getting close. Up ahead, she saw dozens of vehicles scattered across the road in a traffic jam. In the middle was a brown panel truck. She downshifted and slowed the rig.

She studied the collection of vehicles around the panel truck. The infected milled around the truck staring up at a figure sitting cross-legged on top of the panel truck. The kid was rocking back and forth with one arm stuck out and the other strumming air.

“Dipshit’s playing an air guitar,” Tate mumbled. She picked up the mic. “Not sure this dipshit is worth saving. He’s sitting on the van roof playing an air guitar while a dozen infected look up at him like he’s a big Mac.”

Doyle came back. “10-9. Come back?”

“Never mind,” Tate answered. “I see the kid. Give me a few. If I don’t get back to you in half an hour send in the Rangers.”

Tate dropped the mic. She studied the trail of vehicles leading up to the panel truck. Left of the red car, right yellow, between the white and black, around the blue to the right. Tate grinned to herself. Then pull alongside close enough for him to climb in the window. And mow down any infected that get in my way. It ought to work since it looks like someone else cut a path through the vehicles before I got here.

She stomped the clutch and shifted as the truck gained speed. Tate blew the air horn. The kid looked up as the rig rolled toward the collection of vehicles ahead. He pulled white earphones from his ears and waved his arms above his head and jumped to his feet. He began jumping up and down, his arms flailing and obviously shouting. The infected grew even more agitated. They were frantic to get to him. Tate blew the horn twice more and he stopped dancing around to watch her approach.

The Orange Bitch rolled down the hill and clipped the back fender of the first vehicle, a red hatchback with a flat tire. The little car skittered out of the way just in time for the truck to smash into a yellow Camaro and ripped the back quarter panel off as if peeling an onion.

Tate threaded the Bitch between a white sedan and a black SUV then rolled over half a dozen infected that had turned and made their way toward the truck.

She down-shifted, easing the truck into the back of a blue sedan sitting next to the panel truck. She used the guard to push it to the edge of the road and out of the way. Tate stepped on the break and came to a stop. She shifted into reverse. The engine whined as she backed up to stop next to the panel truck. Tate pushed the button to lower the window a few inches.

The kid grinned. “That was way cool. Shit, you’re a woman.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Are you bit?”

“No. Hell no. Been sitting on that truck since last night.” The kid answered. “You jacked my car, back there. The red one.”

“Get in. I got another dumbass to rescue.” Tate ordered as she opened the window all the way.

The kid slid to the edge of the panel truck and eased down until his feet landed on the open window. He stood there for a full minute shuffling his feet and trying to figure out how to get into the cab.

Finally, Tate called out. “For Christ sake, grab onto the mirror, slide down on your ass and get in here.”

With a little maneuvering, he did what he was told then flopped into the passenger seat with a sigh of relief.

Tate raised the window to block out the moans and stench of the infected. “Okay, what’s your story? How did you end up on the truck?”

“I tried to go around this mess last night. I ran over something and got hung up and my tire went flat. Before I could get away, the creeps showed up. Actually, I think they were already here. I just didn’t see them.”

Tate shifted into first and the rig began to move forward. She stepped on the clutch and shifted again. She maneuvered around a pickup and a sedan, then around the back end of a panel truck. She shifted again and clipped a caddie, taking out the tail light on the driver’s side. After clipping a green van and brown sedan, they were through the maze.

Tate stopped the truck and watched the three remaining infected continue stumbling after them. She opened the door, pulled her handgun from the holster and raised the site to the closest monster. She took a breath and fired. The first infected, a woman, still wearing green scrubs, fell to the ground. After two more shots, a teenage boy with black hair and an old man in dress pants and blood-stained white shirt lay on the asphalt.

She holstered her gun and turned back to the kid. “What’s your name?” Tate asked.

“Ben. Ben Lawson. Hey, you mind if I plug in my iPod. The thing is almost dead.” Barely taking a breath, he continued. “Is this your truck? What’s your name? I’ve never seen a woman drive a truck like this. It’s sure got cool seats.” He slid his butt around on the leather seat. “Smells like chicken in here. You got food and some water to spare. I haven’t had anything to eat in two days. I was scared to stop and get….”

“Christ!” Tate interrupted. “You keep talking and I’ll take you back and put you back on that truck.”

“Sorry.” Ben looked longingly at the charging port.

“Yes, you can plug in your iPod. It’s my truck and my name is Tate Hamilton. That’s drinking water in the jug at your feet. Don’t backwash. The food is in the basket behind the seat. Help yourself.”

Tate got the rig moving again, slowed as she neared the intersection with a sign pointing toward the south. Bandera Falls was less than three miles. She turned up the volume on the CB and picked up the mic. “Doyle, you still out there?”

“Sure am little girl. Did you collect the kid?”

Tate laughed as she looked over to see Ben wolfing down his second piece of chicken and third biscuit. “Yeah. I got him, but I don’t know how long I can keep him, he’s eating me out of house and home.”

A voice interrupted. “You got him? Thank you. You don’t have to keep him. He’s my nephew.”

“Uncle Phil?” Ben asked.

“Yeah, kid. I saw you and couldn’t do a damned thing about it.” Phil answered.

To Tate’s look of confusion, Ben clarified. “Uncle Phil lives on the hilltop not far from Bandera Falls. He’s in a wheel chair. I was headed there.”

Tate held up her hand. “Okay. I’ll see you get there, but not until I lend a hand to a friend of mine.” She clicked on the mic. “Doyle, I’m 10-51. Where exactly are you?”

“If you’ve turned toward Bandera Falls you’ll see my truck two-point-four miles from the turnoff. Can’t miss my rig alongside the road.”

“Hang tight, Doyle. We’ll figure out something when I get there.”

Two minutes later Tate pulled up next to the red GMC rig Doyle had been driving the last time she saw him. She waved at Doyle and he stepped out of the cab with a beer in hand.

“Well scrawny girl, I never expected to see anyone I knew again,” Doyle commented.

Tate jumped from her cab and into Doyle’s arms. “It’s good to see you, you ol’ goat.”

Doyle laughed and set Tate back on her feet. “Interesting hair color. Is that in honor of the fucked up world or to match your truck?”

Tate shrugged. “Before the world got screwed. It was just a wild hair while I was in San Antonio.”

With a big smile he asked. “Well, kid, what now?”

“Let’s see if we can get you some diesel,” Tate answered. “Bandera Falls is close. Have you seen anyone?”

Doyle chuckled. “Nope. After what I saw in Taco Town, I was hoping someone would drive by this morning and give me some idea what’s going on around here. I haven’t seen anything since I barreled through that cluster-fuck back up the road.”

Ben jumped from the truck cab. “My uncle has diesel. I’m sure he’ll help you.”

“Well, let’s head there, then.” Doyle laughed. “Sooner I get some fuel, the better. I don’t like leaving my rig on the road.”

“Let’s get going,” Tate answered.

The trio got back in the truck with Ben still chattering.

“When I was a kid, we used to come up to the cabin and Uncle Phil had all these neat toys for the kids….”

“Stop!” Tate raised her hand. “All I want to hear out of you is how to get to your uncle’s place.”

Sitting on the edge of the sleeper mattress, a little more subdued, Ben guided them down the blacktop to a gravel road.

Tate turned on the gravel road and followed a narrow path as it wound around the perimeter of an uplifted outcropping at least half a mile in diameter. As they drove the last hundred yards the overhanging vegetation opened up to expose cleared grounds surrounding a fenced compound.

An eight-foot hurricane fence enclosed half a dozen buildings. Two of the buildings looked to be barns. One building was a metal shop with an open front and another was a multi-door garage with what looked like an apartment on the end. One of the last buildings was a two-story log house with a tower above the second floor.

Tate downshifted at the sight of the compound gate. When she got the rig stopped, she turned to Ben. “Well, where do we go from here?”

“I got this.” He jumped from the cab and walked to the keypad and entered a code. The gate began to roll back with the rattle of chain and wheels on a rail. Tate drove through and the gate began rolling back into place.

Ben jumped the cab step clinging to the mirror and window. He pointed toward the house where a man was rolling a wheelchair down a ramp. With the rig barely moving, Ben jumped to the ground and ran to the man in the chair.

Tate stopped and killed the engine. She and Doyle stepped to the ground and walked slowly toward the reunion.

Tate smiled when she saw the old man wipe tears from the corner of his eyes. The man had a broad chest and strong muscled arms despite the wheelchair. His gray hair was thick and had been slicked back exposing his weathered face and sparkling blue eyes. He showed no sign of decline despite the wheelchair.

“I’m glad we’re able to help,” Tate stated.

“He’s family.” The old man answered. “I can’t repay you two for this.”

Doyle chuckled. “Wasn’t me. She did it all by herself without any help from me.”

Ben grinned. “She’s kick ass, Uncle Phil. She killed all those creeps. She ran over ‘em then shot the ones that were left.”

Phil nodded. “I saw it.” He turned to Doyle and Tate. “Please, come inside so we can talk. I could use any information you folks can share.” He turned on the back wheels of the chair and led them inside.

Once in the house, Ben raided the fridge and brought out a bottle of soda and three bottles of water. “Where is the family, Uncle Phil? Without even waiting for an answer he headed for the back of the house. “Can I shower? I really stink. I still got some clothes upstairs, right? I’m so glad to be here, really, I am. I’ll be back in a minute. Okay? Well, later, folks.”

“Go on boy. Make it a quick shower.” Phil answered at Ben’s retreating back. “We’ll discuss the family later.”

Phil turned back to his guests. “You folks come from the city?” At Tate’s nod, he continued. “Can you tell me about it?”

Tate spent the next ten minutes telling Phil and Doyle what she had experienced. When she was done, Phil turned to Doyle.

“Where were you heading?”

Doyle laughed. “I didn’t really have a place in mind. My ex-wife was in Houston, but I really hadn’t thought about where I was heading to as much as what I was running away from.”

“I can relate….” Tate commented.

Phil leaned closer. “Where ARE you two planning on going when you leave here?”

Tate squared her shoulders. “I got family out west. They evacuated Houston so I’m hoping my mother and sister will end up at my cousin’s place at Pine Canyon.”

“What about you Doyle?” Phil asked.

Doyle cleared his throat. “Find diesel and get my truck.”

At Phil’s puzzled expression, Doyle explained how his rig ran out of gas on the highway heading into Bandera Falls and was still sitting there.

“No problem,” Phil stated. “I’ve got a tank of diesel out by the tool shed. You can fill a couple five-gallon cans to get back here to fill it up. It’s the least I can offer, after getting my nephew here. If you want, you’re welcome to spend the night.”

Tate sat up, flung her feet over the edge of the thin mattress of the sleeper, and slid into the driver’s seat. She’d fallen asleep listening to the radio. She leaned her head out the window.

She heard the distant pop again. It was gunfire. She reached behind the seat to grab her handgun and laid it on the passenger seat. She studied the shadows in the woods behind the house. More shots rang out and this time they sounded closer.

Charlie said the edge of town was only a quarter mile from the roadblock. She decided the second set of shots came from the roadblock itself. He was right, parking behind the house hid the light of a truck doors opening from the roadblock, but it also blocked her view of them. If she wanted to see what was going on, she had to get inside the house. She reached for her canvas bag, pulled out a holster on a canvas belt and buckled it on her waist. She picked up the handgun and jammed it in the holster. She picked up the rifle and opened the truck door.

Standing on the top step, she took one last look through the windshield and side windows before she jumped to the ground. She scanned the yard toward the out-buildings, the woods and small cemetery at the back of the property. Seeing nothing, she ran to the house and stepped through the kitchen door into the darkening house.

She heard two gunshots, then another three. Those shots were much closer. Once inside the house, she took the stairs two at a time. At the head of the stairs, she went into the front bedroom facing the roadway. She tore back the curtain from the window and scanned the yard and beyond.

She could see the lights around the roadblock had been turned on. She opened the window and leaned out to listen. She could hear excited shouts, but the words were lost with the distance. Then she heard more gunfire and a long, pained scream of terror.

Being less than half a mile from the roadblock than she realized an open field separated her from the blacktop road where she had left Charlie. Tate stepped onto the sloping roof of the front porch. She tested her footing on the brittle wooden shingles before side-stepping to the corner of the roof. Each step solicited creaks and groans of protest. She prayed she wouldn’t break through.

Once she got to the corner of the roof and could feel rafters underfoot, she squatted down to study the people hurrying around the road block under the bright utility lights. The grader had been pulled to the side leaving the access open. Tate knew that couldn’t be a good.

Tate could see several vehicles coming across the bridge. The lead vehicle slowed, and the driver spoke briefly to one of the guards then sped away. The guard waved to the other guards then shouting and everyone seem to take up a defensive stance. The men patted pockets, checked loads and aimed rifles toward the town.

Gunfire began again. It was slow and deliberate. Bang…bang…Bang. Tate realized two of the guards were firing. Then it ended and there was only silence.

Just as Tate thought the excitement was over, another pair of headlights raced through the breach. In the glare of another pair of headlight, Tate could see silhouettes of people shambling across the bridge ahead of the vehicle. Tate realized the people were infected and stumbling toward the road block. The guards climbed the heavy equipment then focused gunfire toward the bridge as more and more infected stumbled toward them.

Tate stood up to watch the mass of bodies stumble across the dark bridge and mass amid the glaring floodlights. They clustered around the grader with arms reaching up toward the men on top of the cab. The guards were firing into the crowd. Bodies piled up at the side of the grader while more and more of the infected climbed toward the guards.

Suddenly the vehicle roared through the horde of attackers. It struck two bodies tossing them head over heels. The sound of the engine changed dramatically after the impact. The engine began knocking so loud Tate could hear it from where she stood.

“What the?” Tate whispered.

She looked back toward the window, debating about jumping into her truck and leaving but decided to wait. Charlie expected to find her at the house and if something went wrong, she might be able to help him by being at the house when he came.

Tate watched a work light teeter then make a slow arc to the ground exploding in a light show of sparks. The vehicle raced away from the road block with the engine sputtering and coughing. One of the headlights blinked out as the vehicle disappeared over the hill.

Tate followed the vehicle’s journey by the growl of the engine and the roar of the missing muffler. The truck slowed and turned at the crossroad, accelerated then made the second turn toward the farm house. The remaining headlight blinked once when it turned on the lane leading to the house.

Tate hurried to the window, climbed back inside the house and made her way down the stairs. She ran out the back door and around the house just as the vehicle skidded to a stop a few feet from the orange rig.

She walked out of the shadows as Charlie opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. He waved Tate to his truck.

“The town is overrun! The dead came in from the freeway a few miles south of town.” He walked to the back of the truck and pulled out several bags. “We got things to do.”

“What do you mean?”

Charlie handed Tate two bags of supplies.

“I gathered a few things. There’s a map in that first bag. I marked back roads that will get you out of here.” Tate stowed the bags and Charlie continued. “My wife was fixing fried chicken when I came. I told her about Jackson but she just kept cooking that damned fried chicken just like the boy was gonna walk through the door any minute. I finally gave up and sat down at the table. She just kept talking about when Jackson was a boy. I guess I nodded off and didn’t hear when she went to the door.” He took a deep breath. “I woke up to her screaming.”

Tate accepted two more bags. “I’m sorry.” She set the bags in the storage compartment in the sleeper.

Charlie handed her another bag. “Bastard ripped out her throat before I could get outta my chair. I pulled him off her and drove a knife in the side of his head. She died on the kitchen floor while I threw the bastard out the back door. I gave her peace, cleaned her up and put her in the truck.” Charlie set a basket to the side of the pickup. “I could hear them out in the street.”

“You can’t stay here. You can come with me. I have a cousin out west and we’ll go there.” Tate announced.

Charlie answered. “Afraid not.”

He rolled up his sleeve to expose a white bandage on his forearm. “The bastard got me before I put him down.”

My folks are buried out back. I plan on laying Emma to rest with my folks.” Charlie shrugged and picked up the basket covered by a checkered cloth and passed it to Tate.

She glanced in the truck bed and saw tarp wrapped body. “I’ll help you.”

“You can’t stay.” Charlie answered. “It’s too dangerous.”

“And you can’t stop me,” Tate answered. “Let’s take care of your wife. Where can we find shovels?”

An hour later, Tate and Charlie stood at the side of a shallow grave, just wide enough for two bodies. They had dug a single hole big enough to hold both Charlie and his wife.

“I feel bad leaving you to finish this.” Charlie chuckled as he dragged his arm across his moist forehead. He drove the end of the shovel into the pile of dirt.

Tate shrugged. “No problem. I owe you.”

After carrying a bucket of water in from the pump, and washing up they sat at the kitchen table with a single candle between them. Tate watched Charlie slump in a chair.

He had grown pale, his lips cyanotic and eyes bloodshot. His breathing came in short gasps. “Sorry, I think it’s getting pretty bad. My head feels like its exploding. I don’t think I’m going to be able to eat. He pointed at the basket of chicken on the table. “Eat while I show you this map.”

“It smells really good.”

Charlie forced a laugh. “My Emma was a good cook, that’s for damn sure.” He leaned over the map and pointed at a red line he had drawn on the back roads. “It’s no more than three miles. If you go past the church you’ve gone too far.”

“I got it.” Tate answered as she grabbed a chicken leg and took a big bite while Charlie looked on with a sad smile on his face.

“You’re an interesting woman, Tate Hamilton.” He commented.

“How so?” Tate asked around a mouthful of chicken. She swallowed and took a bite of biscuit. She reached for the second chicken leg.

“The orange hair and the tattoo. You drive a truck that matches your hair.” He chuckled as he massaged his temple.

“Actually, it’s the other way around. The hair matches the truck.” Tate answered. You’re right Charlie. Your wife was a hell of a good cook.”

Charlie announced. “She was. You know, without her and our son I don’t regret leaving this life. I’m just sorry you’ll be alone in such a fucked up world.”

“I’ll manage,” Tate answered.

Charlie pushed back from the table. “Don’t stay. Get in your truck and get the hell outta here. Where ever you stop, sleep in your truck and remember when you get out in the morning, there could be an infected at the door.” He rose and walked to the kitchen door and turned back to Tate. “Sorry. I need some air.” He stepped outside into the dark.

After a full minute of concentration on her meal and Charlie didn’t return, Tate put down the chicken leg. She turned toward the open door and called out. “Charlie? Are you alright?”

A shot shattered the silence. She jumped to her feet, raced through the door, and stood on the edge of the back porch. She studied the shadows in the fading light and saw no movement then her eyes were drawn toward the small family cemetery and she saw a dim glow.

“Charlie? Come on Charlie, don’t do this to me.” Tate called out as she ran toward the light.

When she got to the edge of the cemetery, she stopped running and made her way with halting steps to the hole in the ground. She looked into the grave and gasped.

Charlie had opened the tarp and pointed a small light toward Emma’s face. Her round, pleasant features looked as if she were merely sleeping. Charlie had lain down next to her body then put the small caliber gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.

“Ah, Charlie.” Tate squatted down and stared into the hole.

She didn’t know how long she spent squatting there staring at Charlie and Emma before she stood up with aching knees. She stepped into the hole and retrieved the flashlight and laid it at the head of the grave. She pulled the end of the tarp over both their faces and climbed out of the grave. She grabbed a shovel and began shoveling dirt into the grave.

“Damn it, Charlie. You didn’t have to do it like this.” She shoveled spade-full after spade-full of dirt into the hole. It took nearly an hour before the excavated earth was piled into a mound over the grave.

When she finished, Tate walked back to the house, washed up and repacked the basket with the chicken and rolls. She used the toilet one last time, grabbed the map and the basket then walked back to the truck.  She climbed inside, cranked the engine and put the truck in gear.

She drove for three hours down back roads barely wide enough to accommodate the rig. It was well past midnight when she pulled out onto a two-lane blacktop. She was exhausted and she could barely keep her eyes open. She saw a break in the fencing alongside the road and after slowing realized it was a gravel lane. In the distance she could see the remains of a burned out structure. Only remnants of three walls could be seen in the moon light. She pulled into the barn yard, deciding the scrub grass down the middle of the rutted road should ensure the property being deserted.

She parked the rig and rolled down the windows. The light evening breeze filled the cab with the aroma of fresh mowed hay. She crawled into the sleeper and pulled the handmade quilt close. Her head barely hit the pillow and she was fast asleep.

The sleeper was stifling when the morning sun glared through the windshield and down on the metal roof overhead. Tate was covered in a glistening mist of perspiration. The quilt was kicked to the foot of her bed.

When the sun rose the next morning she raised her head then flopped back on the pillow. She was exhausted and despite the bright blue sky she could see through the glass at the top of the sleeper she didn’t want to face the day. Slowly the events of the evening before came back to her and she covered her head with the quilt. As she lay there, she slowly realized she was hearing moans. Or maybe sobs of people in pain. She sniffed at the air and realized a terrible smell had begun invading the cab.

She threw the quilt back as the fog of sleep cleared. Slowly, she realized the groans and moans were not her imagination but coming from the open window along with the overpowering stench of decay and shit.

Tate sat up with a start and peeked through the curtain at the side of the metal compartment. She gasped at the sight of dozens of infected roaming the yard and around the burned out structure. She also saw a major highway behind the destroyed building with dozens of vehicles parked one behind the next.

Dozens of bloodied and gore-covered dead people were focused on the Orange Bitch. Each looked expectantly at the windows of the cab. Their noses raised and sniffed as if they could smell her. She could even hear snorting above the moans from time to time.

“Fuck!” Tate cursed. “Damn it. Shit.”

She took a deep breath to calm her terror and almost gagged. She geared up the courage to slide from behind the curtain into the driver’s seat. The infected outside grew more agitated when she appeared. The monsters slammed open hands against the doors and drug bloodied fingernails across the paint.

All the commotion made by the infected pounding on the door drew the attention of others further away. One by one, the infected still on the road turned and stumbled toward the big rig. The truck was being surrounded by monsters smelling like an open sewer.

Tate turned the key and pushed the starter. The engine ground and sputtered then died.

“Come on you frigid bitch…start.”

She adjusted the choke then pushed the starter again. The motor sputtered once then roared to life. She let the engine warm while the new noise drew even more infected toward her. The stench filled the cab and she swallowed the rising bile as she closed the windows.

She slammed in the clutch and shifted the truck into first gear and blew the horn hoping the noise would drive the infected away. Instead, the sound drew even more of the infected to the rig. They stumbled closer, arms reaching and mouths opening and closing.

Tate slowly released the clutch and pushed her foot down on the accelerator. The infected pushed closer to the moving vehicle. The truck rolled forward and she watched as the faces in front of the bumper disappeared under the brush guard.

The sound of bones and skulls crunching under the wheels filled the cab. With her jaw clenched, Tate shifted to second, then third. The truck accelerated. She steered the Bitch out onto the blacktop and faced dozens of the monsters, all stumbling toward the truck. She stepped on the gas and rolled over bodies. She shifted again and drove to the end of the lane where she turned right and drove away.

“So this is the new world,” Tate whispered. “It’s really fucked up.”

“Pablo! Maria! Oh my God….” Tate called out as she turned toward the couple, ready to run to them.

How could her friends from the truck stop still be walking when covered in such terrible wounds? Strips of flesh were torn from their arms and faces. Maria’s peasant blouse hung off one shoulder exposing the remnants of a tattered and blood-soaked bra and the raw open wound where her ample breast had been. Her throat had been torn out leaving another gaping injury. Pablo had a yawning hole in his belly big enough to spill loops of intestines from the opening. The others, following Maria and Pablo, each with terrible injuries and covered in blood and gore.

The old man grabbed her arm nearly pulling her shoulder from the socket. She spun around stumbling to her knees, her arm still in his grasp and held over her head. He released her and stepped back. She jumped to her feet, turned on him with a clenched fist, ready to deck the old man. When she saw his face, her rage dissolved. His eyes glistened with tears.

He covered her fist with his hand and pushed it down. “You can’t do anything for them.” He whispered. “Get in the truck or you’re dead, too.” He gave her a gentle shove toward the truck door.

Tate looked over her shoulder one last time then opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat. Through the open door, she stared across the parking lot at Pablo and Maria as they stumbled toward the truck.

Tate stared at the assemblage until the old man slammed an open palm against the passenger door of the cab. Tate pushed the automatic lock release and he climbed inside, slamming his door.

“Close the damn door!” He ordered.

Tate pulled the door closed then turned to her passenger. “What happened to them?”

“Infected got them. They’re dead.” He answered.

“How in the hell can they be dead and still walking around?” She demanded.

“Bio-terrorism…or so the news reports said.” The old man took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you all about it, but right now, we need to get outta here.”

He pointed toward the drug store where a gathering of the bloodied populace had noticed the commotion earlier and were making a bee-line toward them.

“Are they really coming after us?” Tate asked in disbelief.

The old man sighed. “What does it look like? If you want to live, crank this rig and get us outta here!”

Tate scowled and turned the key. “You don’t have to be such an asshole. I just woke up and I gotta pee like a racehorse.”

“Drive now. Pee later.” He groused back.

Tate maneuvered out of the parking lot onto the street heading away from the truck stop. She weaved through stalled vehicles, scraping the brush guard and trailer more often than not.

She used the bumper to push a vehicle out of the way since gatherings of infected stopped them from even considering getting out of the truck and drive the vehicles out of the way. The shiny chrome bumper was taking a beating and Tate cringed at each scratch and scrape.

The old man introduced himself as Charlie Duffy. He directed her down side-street after side-street until Tate thought she would either pee right in the seat or her eyes would pop out of her head from the pressure. It was a toss-up as to which would come first.

“You know how much my payments are for this truck?” Tate complained. “We have to stop. I’m not pissing in my fucking seat. We’re gonna stop sooner rather than later.”

The old man shrugged. “Take a piss with the streets swarming with infected and one of those bastards will be on your ass before you can pull down your pants. As for truck payments, I doubt it matters now. In another week, you can use cash to wipe your ass when you take a shit.”

Trying to ignore her bladder screaming for relief, she asked. “What do you mean?”

“It won’t be long before there won’t be anyone left to stop the infection. When the bastards hit the military bases they took out the only hope of controlling it. Nowadays, without the military there isn’t enough people that know how to use the guns it’ll take to put down all the dead.” Charlie answered. “If the brain isn’t destroyed, the bastards just get back up and come after you again.

They drove through silent streets where the only people they saw were bloodied and now were monsters. Men, women and children alike had become fiends ready to tear the flesh from the living. As the truck passed, the infected reached out and turned their faces with gnashing teeth toward the sound.

Tate struggled to ignore the stench wafting up from the groups of infected. The smell was worse than an open sewer line. She closed the vents in the cab, but the disgusting odor invaded the confines of the vehicle.

“Smells like shit.” Tate groused.

“It is. Bowels and bladders release when they die. Most of the dead are stumbling around with a full load in their pants.”

“Great. Not bad enough they want to eat us, they smell like shit.”

Charlie shrugged. “Sums it up pretty much.”

The rig finally cleared the suburbs and escaped into the country. Tate had not seen an infected person in over a mile when she noticed an abandoned road side park a few hundred feet ahead. After checking the mirrors, she decided there was no one around. She downshifted, jolted to a stop, and slammed the truck into park. She pulled the key from the ignition, jerked open the door and slid from the leather seat to the bare dirt of the neglected driveway.

After pulling down the zipper on her jeans, she squatted where she’d landed. Her bladder released and she almost wept with relief. The puddle grew in the dry packed earth, spreading out to trail away from her booted feet. She sighed as the minutes trickled away. She heard the passenger door open and close then she could hear a similar sound on the opposite side of the truck.

When finished, she pulled up her pants and walked away from the cab. She turned at the sound of booted steps near the front of the truck and saw Charlie standing with his back to her looking toward the city.

“It’s gone. It’ll never be the same.” Charlie announced. “Those assholes think they’re destroying this country but in the end, it’ll come back to bite ‘em in the ass. This time, there won’t be an army of do-gooders from this country left to save them. Because this will get out, trust me. It’s too deadly not to go beyond our borders.”

“They can go to hell,” Tate answered. “After what I’ve seen today, I hope they all end up in hell.”

“They will,” Charlie answered. “Along with the rest of the world, they will reap what they’ve sown. It was at the base forty-eight hours ago, now it’s spilling out into the country. Half a dozen states were attacked; half of those are out of control already.”

“How did you end up at the truck stop?” Tate asked as she reached in the truck for a hair brush. She attacked the gelled spikes of hair.

“My son…well, we were making a delivery at the back door when the mob came through about seven last night. We heard bits of the reports on the radio before they swarmed the place but didn’t pay much attention. It was our last stop. We were worried about all the craziness but just tried to get done so we could head home.

I was in the truck sorting the stock and Jackson carried the first load inside. He saw the infected soldiers come through the front and attack people. He escaped out the back door closing it behind him. He pulled the truck’s overhead door closed with us inside.

I wanted to go help, but he convinced me to stay in the truck. We listened to the screams of people being attacked for about an hour then it got really quiet. I wanted to leave then, but Jackson talked me into waiting until around seven this morning.

We thought they were all gone so we raised the door real slow and got out. I got down on the driver’s side and Jackson headed around to get in the passenger door and walked right into a teen in a football jersey with half his face missing. The bastard had Jackson down on the ground before I even realized something was happening.

When I heard him yelling, I grabbed the bat from the cab and ran around the front of the truck. I beat the bastard’s head in, but it was too late.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie.” Tate responded.

“I pulled Jackson into the cab of the truck. There was so much blood and I just didn’t know what to do other than try to bandage the wounds then get him to the hospital. I tried cranking the truck, but the battery was dead. We’d left the damned lights on. So we just sat there.

I must have dozed off because I woke up when I heard growling. It sounded like a rabid dog or something. I opened my eyes to see Jackson crawling toward me. I grabbed the bat and used it to keep him back, but I…just couldn’t….” His voice cracked with emotion.

Tate put her hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry this happened to you and your son.”

Charlie shrugged. “Nothing to be done, now.”

“You mentioned your wife.”

“I need to get home.”

“Can I take you there?” Tate asked.

Charlie turned to look at Tate. “It’s about thirty miles west of here. If we can find a vehicle, I can make it.”

“No. I want to take you.” Tate answered. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Sure wish I had a few of the honey buns from the back of my delivery truck,” Charlie commented. “I could eat a fucking horse.”

“Have you noticed a theme here?” Tate responded, but Charlie only looked confused. “Let’s find some food then get you home.”

“Unhitch the trailer before we pull out,” Charlie answered. “It’s just costing you gas and I think that’ll be a problem sooner rather than later.”

After jacking up the trailer, Tate pulled away with one last look in the side mirror. She felt as if she were leaving her life behind. She wondered if the habits of the road were lost forever. Normal driving laws would probably be a thing of the past.

When she looked at the road ahead she noticed vehicles in the distance and Wandered about the people who just stopped in the road and left them at the side of the road. As the rig drew closer she could see open doors, shattered windows and bodies alongside some of the vehicles. With each mile and cluster of abandoned vehicles, what she saw grew more horrifying.

When she glanced into the blood splattered cars, she saw the remains of adults and children alike still held in place by seat belts. Their bodies bore horrible wounds and showed evidence of the carnage they had suffered. When the truck neared heads of the monsters inside the vehicles turned and their teeth gnashed.

“We are so fucked,” Tate whispered. “Some of those men wore military uniforms.”

“The National Guard was called out to stop the spread of the infection, but they ended up in the middle of it and overwhelmed. Now they’re part of the problem.” Charlie remarked. “I hope some of the smaller rural towns organize and figure out how to protect the community. It’s the only hope.”

Tate turned on the radio and they listened to news reports. General emergency instructions filled the airways no matter the channel. Evacuation information and refugee camp locations were broadcasted at regular intervals. Those unable to get to designated secure sites were being advised to board up windows and shelter in place.

According to the reports, all transportation was at a standstill in the affected cities. Outside the cities, train schedules were limited or stopped altogether. Air traffic was restricted and expected to be grounded altogether within hours.

The president, already well-known for his executive orders, threatened multiple executive orders to deal with the crisis if the affected states didn’t get it under control. Of course, it was being threatened from the security of his secure bunker.

Most of Europe, Asia, and South America had shut down US flights altogether. Outbreaks had already been reported in Canada, Mexico and of all places, Iran. The Iranian outbreak had started in a small remote area out in the middle of nowhere and been sweeping through village after village until it was now moving into all the major cities. Estimated death toll to date in Iran was thirty percent and the infected were Wandering into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Iraq.

The talking heads speculated as to the reason for such an isolated outbreak in Iran. Some speculated about an accident at a secret lab that the government was trying to hide with a massive explosion at the site. The Iranian government claimed the explosion was the result of an unprovoked US attack on a small farming community.

Despite all the posturing, tweets verified more and more cases in the Middle Eastern countries. Twitter accounts were burning up with cries for help. The only country that seemed to have locked down quickly enough was Israel. A national edit stated no one in or out, no exceptions. Most of the adult populace was protecting the borders to ensure its isolation.

Tate switched off the radio. “I can’t listen to it anymore. Nothing but bad news.”

Charlie turned down the radio. “Ain’t gonna get any better. Utilities will shut down pretty soon. Fuel and food will get scarce as the infected spread out. When that happens, not everyone will be out there helping. People will take advantage of the situation or kill to get what they want. Without law enforcement to stop some, murder and anarchy will become a way of life. Being a woman is not gonna be easy, Tate.”

“I figured as much when they started talking about law enforcement being overwhelmed. Prison has been the only deterrent and that hasn’t worked very well for years.” Tate commented. “I know after this there won’t be anyone to stop them.”

“You know how to use those guns?” Charlie asked.

“Yeah, I can use both my guns. Better than most, to be honest. My daddy started taking me with him driving cross country when I was fourteen and wanted me to be able to take care of myself.” She chuckled. “I got my high school diploma and an associate’s degree riding in a big rig on the open road. When I got old enough I got my CDL and began doing most of the driving. By then he had no business driving and we had to keep the money coming in to pay the truck note and support the family.”

Tate pulled the rig into the parking lot of a small mom and pop bait store with a single fueling island. Charlie and Tate walked into the small store and began talking to the elderly couple behind the counter.

The pair seemed to consider the state of emergency a minor inconvenience. Tate used her credit card at the pump to top off the gas tank then picked up breakfast rolls, jerky, packages of chips and candy bars.

As she pulled away, she wondered how long before they would be overrun by the infected wandering the roadways. She had tried warning them, but they waved her away and said they would be fine. The old man pulled a .357 from under the counter and grinned a toothy farewell.

Traveling was slow. It took nearly an hour to go ten miles with the number of stalled and abandoned vehicles left on the road and along the roadside. Charlie directed Tate from one small road to yet another.

Finally, he pointed at a sign for the town of Gardener.

“This road bypasses downtown. We’ll turn off the main road up ahead. Take the next right.”

Tate downshifted and turned the rig on to the narrow blacktop. When they crested a hill they were met by a roadblock in front of a narrow bridge. A massive road grader was parked across the road at an angle.

All traffic was forced to stop without any chance of going around since both sides of the road dropped off into a creek. Four men, with handguns and rifles, stepped out from behind the massive machine to face them.

One of the men stepped forward. “Shut ‘er down, there.” The road is closed and we don’t want outsiders. Turn around and go back the way you came.”

Charlie stuck his head out of the side window and called out. “Cool your jets, Henry Smith. I got as much right as anyone to be on this road.”

“Charlie?” Henry called back. “Charlie Duffy, is that you?”

“Yeah. It’s me. Now open up. I’m tired and I want to go home.” Charlie called out.

“Can’t do that. That ain’t Jackson with you and City Council voted to close the town to ALL strangers.”

Charlie growled. “She saved my life in San Antonio. Jackson is gone and I owe her. This is her rig.”

“Sorry, Charlie. Council was very clear about it. No strangers.” The heavy set man answered with a shrug.

“Look, I lost my son this morning and I’m going home to tell my wife, so either; move that grader or I’ll move it for you.” He pulled the handgun from behind Tate’s seat and reached for the door handle.

Tate grabbed his arm. “Don’t do this. I was going to head out in the morning anyway.”

Charlie settled back in the seat and passed the handgun back to Tate. “I owe you. At least let me get you food and water for traveling.”

Tate shrugged. “I’ll figure something out.”

Charlie continued. “No. Let me do this. Go back to the last cross road then take a left. Go half a mile then turn left again and follow the first driveway to the old farm house on the right. Park in the backyard, but don’t run over the hand pump, it’s the only way to get water now that there’s no electricity out there. The key is hidden in the pump shed at the side of the house, on the wall to the right. Use it on the back door to go inside. The propane tank still has gas so you can use the kitchen stove to heat water if you want to clean up. I’ll bring food and whatever I can lay my hands at dusk. ”

“I don’t want to cause you any problems.” Tate responded.

“See you this evening. Be there.” Charlie stepped down from the rig then turned back. “By the way, you can see the roadblock from the northeast corner of the house. I’ll blink the headlights twice when I head up the driveway so you’ll know it’s me.” He turned away and walked toward the road block.

“Alright. I’ll see you later,” Tate answered.

She cranked the engine and maneuvered the rig to turn around. As she pulled away, she hoped Charlie could make it back home.

Following the directions he gave her, she found the farm house. She pulled around the back of the house and parked between the house and two outbuildings. After gathering a clean set of clothes and her handgun, she walked toward the house hoping it was as empty as Charlie claimed it would be.

Tate found the key and used it to open the door. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She walked from the kitchen to the front hall to look through a doorway at the furniture in the parlor. The inside of the house looked as if the occupants had just walked out the front door. A framed cross-stitched picture hanging on the entry way wall included the Duffy name and a pre-World War II date. She realized she was probably in Charlie’s parent’s home.

After looking around, she walked back into the kitchen and turned a knob on the stove. When she heard the hiss of gas, she turned it back off and glanced around for matches. She pulled open drawers until she found a box. She picked it up and shook it, grinning to herself at the rattle of wooden matches inside.

Tate opened cabinet doors until she found a large aluminum canning pot. She walked out the door to the pump and set it on the wooden platform surrounding the rusted pump. She grabbed the handle and pumped up and down several times before a trickle of rust colored water spilled from the spout. She shrugged and pumped the handle several more times.

Water flowed from the spout growing clearer with each rise and fall of the handle. The faint smell of iron wafted up, but the water looked clear and clean.

She leaned over and slid her hand under the flow. Tate brought it to her mouth and slurped at the puddle in her palm. The water tasted a little funny with the hint of iron and no chlorine, but it was cold and refreshing in the eighty plus degree temperatures. She gulped at handful after handful of the cool refreshing liquid. Finally sated, she filled the pot and headed back inside the house.

Back at the stove, she struck the tip of a wooden stick against the side of the box and held it to the burner then turned the knob again. Flames flared to life.

She put the pot on the stove, found three additional pots of varying sizes and one by one, filled and carried each inside. Once Tate had water on to boil, she spent a few minutes looking around and found an empty plastic scrub bucket.

She carried it to the old-fashioned pump, pumped the handle to draw enough water to rinse it out then carried the bucket of cold water to the bathroom. She rinsed the dust from the claw-footed tub, then plugged it and poured in the remainder of the water.

While the water came to a boil, she carried several buckets of cold water to the bathroom and added three to the tub then another to fill the toilet tank. She carried a final bucket to the bathroom to use in the toilet later. When the water on the stove came to a boil she carried each pot to the bathroom and added them to the cold water in the tub all the while hoping she wouldn’t be sitting in tepid water.

Tate stripped her clothes off and stepped in the shallow warm water. She leaned back and slid her hair under the surface. After using soap and shampoo, she sat in the tub with her face pressed against her drawn up knees.

She imagined her friends and family facing the monsters she saw in San Antonio. If Ellington had been hit by the terrorists, was Houston as devastated as San Antonio? She fought the tears threatening as she realized how much the world had changed in just twenty-four hours. Finally, she pushed the terror back down and climbed from the tub, dried off and dressed.

She decided on a plan. She would leave in the morning and find family. Meanwhile, she had some time to kill. She walked down the stairs and glanced from room to room.

Tate hesitated only a moment before she started going through the pantry where she found a box with half a dozen empty quart mason jars with lids. She walked out to the water pump, filled the jars, resealed them and returned them to the cardboard box. She carried them to the Orange Bitch figuring water might be an issue when she left the farm.

She needed information and the house had no power.  So after stowing the jars in a cubby under the sleeper, she crawled inside the cab, rolled down the windows and turned on the radio. She scanned through channels until she found a news channel discussing the attacks. The newscaster listed over a dozen bases around the country that had been hit.

In Texas, the governor ordered the National Guard to evacuate San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas, the cities of the initial attacks. The evacuation of Houston was an even worse disaster than when Hurricane Rita threatened the Gulf Coast and the powers-that-be ordered all emergency services suspended.

When Hurricane Rita bore down on the cities of Galveston and Houston the order was given to evacuate flood-prone areas. With the news stations threatening a category five storm everyone from the coast all the way to North Houston ended up on the roads. With no counter-flow lanes, vehicles lined the freeways in perpetual gridlock for over a hundred miles. Supply trucks were diverted from the city and gas stations ran out of gas leaving fuel in short supply. Accidents happened and tempers flared. People died.

This time was no different and now hordes of infected overtook the people stuck in vehicles on the congested roadways. The countryside was ordered to arm and be prepared to defend themselves and their family against the infected. After all, this was Texas. Thirty-five percent of households had firearms. There was gunfire all around the city and the infected were not the only ones being shot.

According to the newscaster, the army base in San Antonio was the hardest hit because the attack took place during parade formation. Hundreds of soldiers were out in the open and fell to the air-born toxin. They succumbed almost immediately, convulsing, blood leaking from their mouths and noses. Then the coughing began. Within minutes, it was so intense the bloodied mist hung in the air contaminating the first of the emergency personnel to arrive. Of course, at that point only a few people even realized there had been an attack. They in turn fell to the agent or its bloodied byproduct.

The initial contagion only remained active in its airborne state about fifteen minutes but that was plenty of time to drift across the parade field and cause the symptoms to develop in hundreds of soldiers and large number of emergency workers.

Though symptoms began within minutes, it took anywhere from an hour to twelve hours to become fatal. The infected were scattered around the city in hospitals or around hospitals in makeshift triage facilities. By then, they figured out the infection could be transmitted by body fluids so workers used masks and protective clothing but it was too little, too late.

The agent was designed to enable emergency personnel to load up the sick and dying to transport them around the city. When people started dying within the first six hours, dozens of bodies were covered with sheets and pushed into morgues and then nearby hallways. With so many patients, personnel ignored the dead and focused on those they thought they still had a chance of saving.

While doctors and nurses treated patients in the overcrowded emergency rooms amid worried families and soldiers, the hidden away dead began rising. With the staff focused on the incoming patients, the dead moved through the halls attacking patients and families alike. Shortly after leaving their victims, the victims of the vicious attacks began to rise. Chaos ensued. The dead took over the hospitals, killing patients, staff and families alike then spread out into the city. The sick and injured still able to run raced from the buildings only to die later and attack families caring for them.

Tate tried calling her mother and was not surprised when cell service was unavailable. She crawled into the sleeper to rest while the news droned on and on. All of the news coming from the three Texas cities told of mayhem and chaos. Her eyes drifted closed to the sound of the reports of evacuations, road closures and a collage of emergency information.

The sun was beginning to set when the sound of gunfire in the distance startled Tate awake.

Tate Hamilton had not slept in nearly twenty-four hours. Between drive time, a three-hour wait to offload the trailer then getting the rig back across town, it had been a hell of a day, but added to a profitable month.

She thought about renting a motel room, but when it came down to parting with the money, she always reconsidered. The hefty truck payment due at the beginning of each month seemed daunting at times but then she’d slide into the black leather seat of her rig and well, it was worth it. The orange rig with red and gold flames stenciled on the side of the hood, she referred to as the Orange Bitch, was hers. Well, hers and the bank.

Besides she knew when the sheets in her rig’s sleeper had been washed last and who had been sleeping on them. She parked at the Rios Truck Stop where she could park the rig overnight, use the showers and get a good meal.

She’d have a few hours to kill the next day before picking up the next load, but no matter, it would give her time to visit with the owners. Pablo and Maria Rios had become friends when she was still driving with her dad before his fatal heart attack.

She would enjoy the time catching up on family news. There was always news since Pablo ran the gift shop/fueling station while the adjoining restaurant was his wife’s domain. Tate glanced across the street and shrugged. She could even pick up a bottle of shampoo at Walgreens, so it was a no-brainer.

Tate pulled the Orange Bitch into the parking lot alongside one of several fueling islands next to a red truck, killed the engine and jumped to the ground. She slid her bank card into the slot on the pump and entered the pin number before picking up the diesel nozzle. She pulled the cap off the main tank, shoved the nozzle in, locked the flow open and stood waiting for the tank to fill while considering what she would order for dinner. Shouting drew her attention back to voices on the other side of her rig.

“I ain’t hanging around, man. This shit’s crazy. I heard the base is fucked.” A gravelly voice announced.

A male answered. “¿Qué pasa con la carga?”

“The load? To hell with it! I’m going to my sister’s in Colorado.” A truck door slammed and a motor roared to life. “If you’re smart, you’ll get the hell out of town, too.”

The Hispanic man answered. “Mi familia aquí. I cannot leave without mi familia.”

“Suit yourself.” Another door slammed and another motor cranked.

Tate looked up as a bright red truck pulled away from the fueling island. A moment later, a sun-faded green truck followed the first out of the parking lot and turned into the street heading the opposite direction.

Tate wondered about the conversation while she finished filling the reserve tank before hanging up the nozzle. She quickly forgot the exchange when she saw the hit her checking account was taking and made a mental note to transfer money tomorrow.

She patted the side of the tank. “Well, Bitch, you’re fueled up and now it’s my turn.” Tate pulled herself back into the driver’s seat, cranked the engine and shifted into gear. Tate crept across parking lot and parked the rig under one of the back security lights, climbed out, locked the door and headed to the drugstore.

An hour later, standing in front of the mirror in a private shower at the Rios, Tate examined the tips of her spiked hair. The color matched her truck and that made her smile. She studied the reflection in a mirror and decided she liked her dark brown hair bleached and colored at the ends.

She stepped away from the sink and noticed her reflection in the full-length mirror on the door and smiled at seeing a feline face creeping over her shoulder. She turned to the side and could see the brightly colored tattoo that began on her left hip with the black curl of a panther’s tail and wound around her back to end on her right shoulder with a black head with green eyes peeking through leaves, vines and blossoms over her shoulder.

Mario, the tattoo artist, called her his masterpiece. She had to admit it was a beautiful tattoo even if few people would ever see it in its entirety. The vines and blossoms had started out as a cover-up of an old boyfriend’s name on her shoulder and evolved into a panther surrounded by the jungle in all its glory.

She slipped into underwear, jeans, pencil-strapped tank top and a plaid shirt tied at the waist. She gathered her toiletries in a bag, unlocked the door and stepped out into the hall. She heard voices from the front of the gift shops.

“Hey, Pablo,” Tate called out. “Thanks for the shower. Something smells really good.”

“Ah, Señorita Tate, Maria is making your favorite. Enchiladas with tasajo beef.”

Pablo rang up a customer at the register then waved toward a young girl stocking candy. She set the box back on the cart and walked to the counter.

“Papa, I still have homework.” The girl chided with a grin.

Pablo stepped out from behind the register and winked at the girl took his place. He walked up to Tate and wrapped a thick arm around her shoulder. Together they walked through the store into the restaurant.

“Maria will be glad to see you. It has been a long while. Sí?”

“Yes. It has been.” Tate answered. “How’s the kids? Sofia is all grown up now, I see.”

“Sofia graduate high school next month.” He answered. “Juan is come home from Iraq in June. All is good. Fuel prices down so more customers. Business is good.”

Tate leaned over to kiss Pablo’s cheek. “Good to hear. I’ve missed seeing you and Maria.”

“You been busy?” Pablo asked in his accented English.

“I spent two weeks on the west coast a couple months ago then had a run to Chicago, from there to Boston, then up and down the east coast a couple times. From Atlanta, I ended back in Chicago. Now I’m here. Lots of driving time.”

“You work too hard.”

“Got big truck payments.” Tate laughed.

“Come, have your dinner. You eat then you rest.”

Pablo led Tate to a table and waved at a short thick-bodied woman with a glistening crown of platted black hair. She hurried across the dining room with tray in hand. She placed a glass of tea, napkin wrapped flatware, chips and sauces on the table.

“Niña. So nice to see you.” Maria gave Tate a big smile. “I bring dinner. You watch TV.” She turned to her husband. “Viejo, back to your job. Your daughter got studies.” She patted his cheek and he headed back to the gift shop. Maria disappeared back into the kitchen.

“You’re daughter, Sophia, tell me already.”  He answered and walked back to the store.

Tate laughed as she emptied two packets of sugar in the glass of tea. She looked to the flat-screen television across the room but only caught bits and pieces of the news reports when several emergency vehicles raced past the station heading in the direction of the military base a couple miles away.

She glanced back at the flat screen and tried to put the collage of images in some context with what the talking head was saying. The reporter talked about a terrorist attack by two drones over a parade ground full of military personnel at the base. There were injured and dying soldiers all over the parade ground. First responders were flocking to the site. It was a confusing collection of reports and images for a sleep deprived mind.

Tate struggled to stay focused on the newscast until Maria brought a plate of enchiladas, beans and rice, then she turned her full attention to the meal. Even with the jalapeno burning her lips she was having a hard time staying awake long enough to eat. Finishing her meal quickly, she barely tasted the spices and tender beef. She laid cash on the table and waved at Maria as she picked up her bag and walked out of the eatery.

After a quick stop at the toilet, Tate stumbled across the parking lot to the truck. She climbed into the driver seat, locked the doors and dropped her shower bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

Pulling her legs up into the seat, she turned and climbed into the sleeper. She settled in the middle of the mattress and opened a green duffle bag. She pulled out a Mossberg, checked the load then laid it to the back of the mattress. With the shotgun stowed, she pulled a Ruger from the bag. She checked the load then slid the weapon into the back pocket of the driver’s seat.

She stowed the bag, turned on the air conditioning then stretched out on the mattress. Tate sighed when the unit began rattling softly. The air conditioner needed servicing but at that particular moment, she was thankful it muted the noise of blaring traffic and screams of sirens. She laid her head on the lavender scented pillow and closed her eyes. She fell asleep almost instantly.

“Back! Jackson, damn it! You get away from me!” A voice called out. “Come on son, don’t do this.”

Tate scrunched her eyes closed trying to recapture the untroubled slumber, but the panicked voice outside called out again.

“Don’t do this. I’ll split your skull!”

Bodies slammed against the side of the sleeper. Tate groaned. “Damn it.” She cursed. “You’ve done it now you dick-heads.”

She glanced at the clock and realized it was nine and the sun was shining. She had slept for more than eighteen hours. Her bladder screamed for relief as she ran her finger through her hair. The styling gel in her hair had turned style into a severe case of bed-head overnight. She imagined she looked pretty scary, but as pissed as she was at the commotion outside, she didn’t care.

She ignored the cotton feel in her mouth and climbed into the driver seat, stepped into boots and jerked open the door just as the combatants slammed into her sleeper again.

“Hey you dip-shits, some of us are trying to sleep.”

Tate jumped to the ground ready to enter the fray but froze in place when she saw the two men. They were locked in a grappling struggle, but the fight itself was not what drew her up short.

The younger of the men was covered in blood and gore. The back of his pants were stained dark brown and the stench wafting from his direction left little doubt as to what the stain was. He had remnants of a dressing on an open wound on his arm. His neck had a patch of ragged torn flesh. A strip of tape hung from his neck where a bandage had fallen away. His eyes were glazed over with a whitish film. The undamaged flesh appeared gray and cyanotic. He kept leaning his bared, gnashing teeth toward the older man.

Tate was dumbfounded when she realized he was trying to bite the man’s face. The older man grappled with a bat, pressing the length of wood against the aggressor’s chest trying to keep him away. The assailant just pushed closer.

The attacker swung an arm at the bat and knocked it from the old man’s grasp. It fell to the ground and the attacker lunged. The man grabbed at the attacker shoving his hands into the blood splattered throat wound pushing the snapping teeth from his face.

The defender backed away while the attacker followed never giving him a chance to turn and run or grab the bat. He looked over his shoulder and yelled at Tate.

“Get the bat. Hit him over the head!”

Tate glanced from the battle to the bat on the asphalt and back again. She glanced around the lot for any sign of assistance, but there was no one else to help.

Realizing she was the only hope the man had, she rushed to the bat and picked it up ignoring the end covered with blood and gore. With a clinched jaw, she ran to the fight and took a swing at the younger man.

She slammed the bat down on the man’s shoulder. The impact barely registered despite the sound of his collar bone snapping. He acted as if he hadn’t even noticed the blow. He just leaned his open mouth closer to the older man’s throat as the man’s arm weakened.

“Hit him in the head!” The defender huffed. “Do it now!”

Tate took a step back with the wood over her left shoulder then swung with all her might. The bat made a wide arc connecting with the side of his skull with a hollow, bone shattering thud. The man collapsed in a heap of blood and gore. He remained still, not moving again.

Tate was horrified to see the side of his skull had split open with the momentum of the swing. Blood, so dark it was nearly black, and gray matter oozed from the gaping wound.

The man fell to his knees at the side of the body. He pulled the younger man into his arms and cradled the body as he wept and mumbled. “Son, I am so sorry. Oh, God, son, how am I going to tell you mother?”

Tate looked on in horror. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I…I didn’t mean to.”

He turned to face Tate. “You did what you had to do.” He got to his feet and glanced around the near-empty parking lot. “What are you still doing here?”

“What do you mean? I spent the night here. I’ve got a load to pick up down the street at two this afternoon. What in the fuck is going on? Why is all the lights out? Where is everyone?”

“You don’t know?” The man took off his jacket and laid it over the face of the young man at his feet. “You don’t know about the infection on the base?”

“I saw something last night on the television about an attack.”

She got an uneasy feeling and noticed for the first time how really quiet it was. There were no cars or trucks moving on the streets around the truck stop. Traffic lights were out. She looked back at the building just as Pablo, Maria, and half a dozen others stumbled through the shattered glass storefront of the truck stop. Each was covered in blood and bore terrible wounds.

“Fuck girl. You just woke up to a new world and it ain’t pretty.” The old man declared. “We gotta get outta here!”